Vera Stewart’s carrot cake defeated renowned chef Bobby Flay’s in a showdown on Food Network; her strawberry cake made it on Oprah Winfrey’s O List of her favorite things in O Magazine; and Stewart’s caramel layer cake was a favorite of designer, Oscar De La Renta, who ordered 17 of her cakes one Valentine’s Day.
When it comes to cooking and baking in general, most recipes aren’t original, but what makes them great are the twists and updates the person creating the dish brings to them, said Stewart.
During the taping of an upcoming episode of the VeryVera Show, Stewart went to some mainstay recipes that have been part of Southern kitchens for years and shared a few secrets of her own.
“These books never go out of styles,” said Stewart of Junior League cookbooks. “The key is how do you twist it and make it different.”
The episode will appear on WJBF Channel 6 at 12:30 p.m., Dec. 21, and 7 p.m., Dec. 23, and feature guests from three Junior League groups, including Allyn Dyer of the Junior League of Augusta, Mary Tyler Paradise and Melissa Jackson of the Junior League of Savannah, and Madison Anderson of Junior League of Charleston.
Stewart said her copy of Tea-Time at the Masters, the Junior League of Augusta’s original cookbook published in 1974, is well-worn after years of use. The League has two other cookbooks they sell to fund various community initiatives, including grants to schools and arts organizations, as well as hands on projects such as it’s Done in A Day, where volunteers organize for a daylong service project. Also, the group works with Icebox Ministries for an adult mentoring program in the Harrisburg neighborhood and with the Ronald McDonald House.
With all the talk about cookbooks, Stewart had the opportunity to share a little about her upcoming release with her guests in between takes. The VeryVera Cookbook: Recipes from My Kitchen is slated for an April 2018 release.
The former home economics teacher started a cottage industry of catering when her sons were smaller, and her name and cooking took off when former Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris asked her to cater his inauguration luncheon.
Over the years, Stewart developed her brand to include mail-order cakes, a café and cooking camps. She’s been featured on the Home Shopping Network, and her products sold through Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. But her success didn’t happen without a lot of hard work and a never-give-up attitude.
“I sent Oprah cakes for 10 years, but she never sent them back and I always got a thank you note,” said Stewart.
When Oprah did feature Stewart’s cakes, it was in the edition with Michelle Obama on the cover in April 2009.
Oscar De La Renta’s plug for her cakes in In Style Magazine in the early 1990s led to an explosion of orders in a time before internet sales and even an 800 phone number.
“The month of May was like Christmas time three times over,” she said.
Someone had to work an evening shift just to take in the orders that came from the West Coast because Stewart’s business had typically closed for the day when those orders were coming it.
Her cooking show, The VeryVera Show, debuted locally in 2012 and airs in several cities including Augusta, Macon, Columbus, Savannah and Indianapolis.
When Stewart closed her retail business in 2013, she didn’t sell her recipes or her brand, and now she’s putting her takes on recipes and reaching back to her teacher roots in her own cookbook.
As she filmed the segment and members of the Junior League of Savannah made cookies, she gave them tips new chefs might not know such as how long to keep cream, butter and sugar together in the mixer.